Red-bellied Woodpecker Comes to Visit

Red-bellied Woodpecker Comes to Visit

Lately Bill Maroldo has managed to attract Red-bellied Woodpeckers to his Sugar Land Bird Menagerie and Photo Ranch™, something I have not accomplished in my own patio setup. I hear them occasionally in my neighborhood, but I have only seen Downy Woodpeckers moving along the large branches.

Previously, the only woodpecker photos I have managed were high in the trees or silhouetted against a bright blue sky. This backyard setup has been ideal. 

Red-bellied Woodpecker showing you his tongue - which is long and sticky Sony A77II with Sony 70-400 G2 f/7.1  1/500 sec ISO 800

Red-bellied Woodpecker showing you his tongue - which is long and sticky

Sony A77II with Sony 70-400 G2 f/7.1  1/500 sec ISO 800

To attract woodpeckers you need to provide food. They will eat insects, sunflower seeds and berries, but suet is a sure thing. Those wire holders are fine if you just want to feed the woodpeckers, but to get nice photographs you need a more natural look. I know, the wire feeders are designed for feeding birds that can hang upside down, but we are taking photos here.

I talked about making setups in Air-conditioned Nature Photography a few weeks ago. Found wood, especially driftwood is ideal. Drill holes in upright logs and fill with purchased or homemade suet. The hole placement gets a bit tricky. Think about the direction of the light and plan accordingly. It is disheartening to finally get a woodpecker to land and then see he is blocked from view by the wood or has a giant shadow across his head. 

If you don't have tools, you can just smear the suet behind a knot or on the log itself.

Rd-bellied Woodpecker profile Sony A77II with Sony 70-400 G2 f/7.1  1/500 sec ISO 800

Rd-bellied Woodpecker profile

Sony A77II with Sony 70-400 G2 f/7.1  1/500 sec ISO 800

This is a male Red-bellied Woodpecker as the top and back of his head is red. The females have red at the nape of the neck, and a smaller patch of red just above the bill. So far, no females have shown up at the free buffet. They do breed in this area as they are year-round residents in the eastern half of the US. 

Red-bellied Woodpecker clinging to branch Sony A77II with Sony 70-400 G2 f/7.1  1/400 sec ISO 1000

Red-bellied Woodpecker clinging to branch

Sony A77II with Sony 70-400 G2 f/7.1  1/400 sec ISO 1000

I didn't notice until I started processing this photo, but he has ... spiderwebs on his front toes. Maybe he found some tasty spiders to eat before he showed up for his photo session. I read that arachnids are a big part of their diet.

All these were shot from the air-conditioned comfort of Bill's sunroom/woodworking shop using a tripod. The RAW photos were slightly enhanced with NIK Color Effex Pro (Detail Extractor and Tonal Contrast) selectively applied to the wood perches. 

Woodpecker close-up; this cavity was filled with suet Sony A77II with Sony 70-400 G2 f/7.1  1/400 sec ISO 640

Woodpecker close-up; this cavity was filled with suet

Sony A77II with Sony 70-400 G2 f/7.1  1/400 sec ISO 640

Speaking of feet, take a look at these. This woodpecker has zygodactal feet, with two toes in front, two in back. This 2:2 arrangement provides superior ability to grip and hold on to trees and limbs, even upside down. 

Most birds have a 3:1 pattern with three in the front and one in the back. And remember, the Osprey can reverse one of his toes to better hold those fish he plucks out of the water. I love birdfeet. 

Perching Red-bellied Woodpecker showing you his red belly Sony A77II with Sony 70-400 G2 f/7.1  1/500 sec ISO 1000

Perching Red-bellied Woodpecker showing you his red belly

Sony A77II with Sony 70-400 G2 f/7.1  1/500 sec ISO 1000

And why is it called the Red-bellied Woodpecker?  

The Red-headed Woodpecker has a totally red head and also occurs in the eastern half of the US, but its range is a bit north of my part of Texas. The faint namesake reddish coloration on the belly is not prominent; but identification is easy when you learn their calls

And woodpeckers fly with an undulating trajectory which is quite distinctive.

Red-bellied Woodpecker - notice how he uses his stiff tail for support Sony A77II with Sony 70-400 G2 f/7.1  1/500 sec ISO 1000

Red-bellied Woodpecker - notice how he uses his stiff tail for support

Sony A77II with Sony 70-400 G2 f/7.1  1/500 sec ISO 1000

Any woodpeckers in around your house? They nest in dead trees, or dead limbs of live trees - which must be in short supply in residential neighborhoods. Hopefully there are good sites around the bayous and vacant tracts. Do you feed the woodpeckers in your yard? Let me know in the comments below.

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